Baby Please Don't Go

Former Minnesotans Say the Twin Cities Cultural Scene Is Insular. Insecure. Unprofitable. Out of Touch. What Does It Mean to Live in an Artists' Paradise If Everyone Wants to Leave?

"In Minneapolis," says Griffin, "there were maybe 25 people who do what you do. In New York it's thousands. It made me think: What do I want to do? What can I do that no one else can do? What is worth my effort? I suppose that's why I started recording music....That's the surprise of having moved here. I feel like I'm being plugged into a wall socket at times."

Some artists crave the stimulation and struggle of a bigger, harsher place over the safety and security of home. "New York is a marvelous city," says artist Matt Bakkom over coffee at a Ukrainian diner on the Lower East Side. "The cultural draws are great." But, he soon adds, "I want to create a lifestyle that allows me to move between New York and Minneapolis."

Bakkom still collaborates with local artists like Mark Wojahn on projects and recently showed his work at Minneapolis's Soap Factory. While chain-smoking compulsively, the spiky-haired artist speaks for a time about his ideas for reshaping Minneapolis into a more international city, "perhaps on the model of northern European cities such as Helsinki....If you do something locally in Minneapolis, it has to be recognized that it is in dialogue with what's going on internationally....This would make a lot of energy happen, and would help elevate Minneapolis, and lead people to know about it."

In other words, he seems to say, if only we could bring New York to Minneapolis, everything would be perfect.

 

¬ Since I started researching this story in the spring, more artists have left the Twin Cities than I can possibly document, and still more will be moving in the coming weeks. Some artists will evolve and find a new niche in their adopted homes, and others will not. Still others, perhaps caught up with the itch, will move again and again.

I have heard through the convoluted arts-scene grapevine that the Dee/Glasoe gallery is no more. It turns out that despite her love for the excitement of New York, and the thrill of being in the thick of things, Carolyn Glasoe has abandoned the city and given up her involvement with the gallery. Several days of calls to both Glasoe and Shannon Kennedy yield no reply. But, then, New York is known to slow down to a nearly Midwestern pace during the August vacation season.

The newly renamed Elizabeth Dee Gallery is closed for the month except by special appointment. After several tries I manage to get Pearl Elbino, the gallery manager, on the phone.

"Yes," she says, "Carolyn is living in Los Angeles now....She really loves New York, but she has a really beautiful house out there, and she wants to be with her husband who works in the movies....It's mostly a lifestyle change."

As Elbino speaks, I imagine endless caravans of creative people, stretching in zigzagging lines across the plains in their modern covered wagons, all seeking the perfect place to live and make art. Right now, artists are hitching the oxen to get out of Dallas, Detroit, Omaha, Santa Fe.

Or not. Ironically, our Twin Cities may be every bit as special as we always hoped--though not in the way we'd choose them to be. "Minneapolis-St. Paul is a unique place," says Kyle MacMillian, art critic for the Denver Post. "Very few places have the level of arts you have there." Places like Denver and Cleveland--according to a recent story by Plain Dealer arts reporter Carolyn Jack--don't have enough funding to support an arts infrastructure. Yet most talented Denver artists, MacMillian says, don't tend to dash off to New York but instead stick around to "try to get tenure-track positions at colleges." We have the paradoxical honor, it seems, of being a singularly robust export market.

There are signs that cities that have invested in arts and in creative people over the past few decades have tended to build thriving cultures of innovation and creativity. A much-discussed new book by Carnegie-Mellon University professor Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, asserts: "Places that succeed in attracting and retaining creative class people prosper; those that fail, don't." He cites in particular success stories like Seattle, Austin (Texas), and San Francisco. The Twin Cities rank fairly high (11th out of 215 ranked markets) on Florida's scale. Still, that success comes at its own cost to the cities of Duluth and Dubuque and La Crosse and Bismarck--all the smaller places in the region that see many of their most talented college grads move here. (Superior, Wisconsin, could probably write its own version of this brain-drain story, and it would be a lot grimmer).

When I finally hear back from Shannon Kennedy, she is in Minneapolis and sounds happy. In the next year she has three upcoming shows: one in Frankfurt, Germany, at Galerie Schuster; one at the Charlottesville, Virginia, gallery of a former Minneapolitan, Leah Stoddard; and one at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery. She's in town for two local weddings and a family reunion. But she says--after the briefest of pauses--that she's eager to return to work in New York, despite the fact that the friend and mentor who coaxed her out there has moved on.

"I have to stay and try to make things work," says Kennedy. "I have to stick it out and see how far I can get."

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